Coping With Disappointment
By 1812 William Carey, the great Baptist missionary and linguist, had been in India for nineteen years. He had waited seven and a half years before he saw the first Indian convert from Hinduism to Christianity. Then the work seemed to accelerate, but in 1812 a fire broke out which destroyed the printing house, with presses, paper, books, and manuscripts. It seems to have been an accident and not a case of arson. Carey was naturally devastated, and the temptation to rage at God and to give it all up must have been strong. Coping with such disappointment can be one of the greatest trials of life. However, Carey was able to pick himself up and keep going. He saw a purpose in what had taken place, and wrote: ‘The Lord has laid me low, that I might look more simply to him.’
We have all known something of this. There have been occasions in life when we have had to cope with disappointments – perhaps with something that has happened or perhaps with the way someone has treated us. One of the Bible’s most endearing features is its facing of reality. Nehemiah became governor of Judah for twelve years, from 445-433 BC. Then he returned to Persia (Neh.13: 6), but later- we do not know how much later, but it seems to have been a few years – he returned for a second stint as governor. What did he find? He found that all the same old sins had returned – marriages to pagans, breaking of the Sabbath, and God’s priests and people not looking after the temple. Everything that had been dealt with in the covenant renewal of Nehemiah 10 had returned in Nehemiah 13. Something had gone drastically wrong. There is no fairy-tale ending to Nehemiah; it all seems to be a depressing let-down.
The temple was being compromised (Neh.13:4-9). The tithes were not being paid, so that God’s servants were not being supported (13:10). The Sabbath was being broken (13:15-16). Jews were divorcing their Jewish wives and were marrying unbelievers (13:23-24). Even the high priest was compromised (13:28). (He could have been a bishop in the Episcopalian Church of the United States or of Canada.) Nehemiah must have been hugely disappointed, and must have felt as though his first stint as governor had been nothing but a waste of time. Nehemiah’s capacity to pick himself up and go the second time probably says more about his spiritual life than do his achievements during his first stint as governor. He knew what Rudyard Kipling was to mean when he referred to Triumph and Disaster as those two impostors.
It is through many tribulations that we shall enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). God has intended that it will never be any other way. You yourself may currently need to pick yourself up and go back into battle for him. Twice in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul comments that ‘we do not lose heart’ (2 Cor. 4:1, 16). How was he sustained? Paul reminded himself that he held his ministry by the mercy of God (2 Cor. 4:1). When he thought of God’s undeserved favour towards him in placing him in the ministry, he was much encouraged and enabled to continue on. Paul was also realistic. He knew that his outer nature was wasting away (2 Cor. 4:16) – he was getting older and slower. But he also knew that his inner nature was being renewed day by day. Here we can learn from the apostle. To the world both being one of the aged and dealing with older people can be a nuisance. But to Paul, the fact that he was getting older meant that God was working longer in him to perfect him.
Sometimes God can use very simple and very human means to encourage his people. Paul said that in Macedonia he had been afflicted at every turn, but that God had comforted him through the arrival of Titus (2 Cor. 7:5-6). Charles Spurgeon, who at one time was in the midst of a time of plague, was very downcast. Then he read a verse from Scripture on a piece of paper in a shoemaker’s window. This single verse encouraged him to press on in the Lord’s work.
Disappointments must come our way. This world is invariably disappointing. We ourselves are disappointing. To know that disappointments are part of God’s plan to try, and test, and perfect his people is the key to coping with them. In 1649 William Bridge commented that ‘Affliction is a bag of gold given unto the people of God; though it seem a leathern bag without, yet there is gold within.’ William Carey might not have seen that immediately in 1812, nor might Nehemiah as he arrived in Jerusalem for his second stint as governor.
You yourself may not see it in the midst of a present disappointment. But those who look to the Lord find, in the words of Ezra, that the joy of the Lord is their strength (Neh. 8:10).
Banner of Truth magazine, October 2005
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